Given the events of the past week and months, I have hesitated to post this. I am relating an actual nightmare I had in January but that I didn’t have enough perspective on at the time to be able to write. I’m still not sure I do, or that this is the best time to post. However, I am doing so in order to put words to fears I have and others may share, and by so doing to lessen their power. I am also sharing my response to the events and policies which have given rise to these fears. In this week of Passover, this week before Easter, I am making a commitment to myself with all of you as witnesses.
Trigger warning: Holocaust references and imagery, violence against people with disabilities
I don’t know what to make of it.
I had a piece of green tape stuck to my right shoulder. It was dark green, matte, about as wide as electrical tape with ends where it had been torn. It was stuck so tightly to the cloth of my sky blue floral summer dress that a hand must have painfully gripped my shoulder, the tape underneath, for a glacial and dangerous moment. Four inches long, it stretched from below my clavicle, up and over the top of the dress, just past the seam connecting the front and the back panels. The symbols on the tape looked like a semicolon, a button-sized black circle above another button with the curl of a tail.
The lines in the rough hand had creased the tape fractionally, as had my dress, but the semi-colon accounted for both, like a typed wink two inches long. Others in my group of other green-matte-tape people had wide colon eyes or other halves of emoticon faces. But we all wore the green tape. And we were all sitting in a rough knot of lunchroom-style tables with round seats attached that aren’t supposed to swivel but do. And we were all being held at gunpoint.
In the way of dreams, I just appeared there, knowing things without having learned or been told them. We were free to move around a little in our group, even to talk quietly. The people in uniform holding guns were fascist soldiers, and there would be no legal recompense if they shot me, or all of us. It could happen in a moment.
We were green, meaning mental illness, and the symbols indicated which illness with which we’d been diagnosed. Mine semi-colon meant depression. There were other groups at other tables but we were all “undesirables.”
We were on a cruise ship’s top deck, in the hollowed out slope of what would have been a pool. We were chugging along on a beautiful day, clear skies and smooth sailing, though the surface is a little choppy.
The fascists were standing at intervals around the rim of the waterless pool. We were waiting for their orders to either release us into the population below decks or to kill us. The orders might be jumbled. We might be moved later. We had no idea.
But we knew some of us would die, our illnesses deemed too severe or too noticeable or too shameful according to the State. Some of us had already been killed. A group of soldiers forced one group, the whole group, to line up on the edge of the deck so they’d all fall overboard when they were shot.
A woman, about my age, slid into the seat next to mine. As if this really is the lunch period at high school, I’m sitting in the corner seat, not looking at the fascists behind me or the empty tables between us. I’m eying the fascists in front of me instead, careful not to make eye contact. The woman who joins me is Asian and sits taller than I do, though I don’t know if she’s actually taller. She had an open face, deceptively so, and bent toward me in a mirror of my crumpled posture.
I can’t remember the exact words she whispered to me, but it amounted to this: we have to get out. I had two friends in the group, a married couple. They’d try to slip away together, but the rest of us in this escape cohort—not the whole group—would try to slip away one by one. We’d have to find a map belowdeck to find the right floor, but the plan was to meet in the kitchen of the restaurant on the very back of the ship. There was a balcony and an oven that (dream-logic) we would push out of its place, off the boat, into the water, holding on to it by straps so we’d float along with it and be saved.
We knew we might not all make it. We knew everyone in the group wouldn’t.
I did slip away, though I expected a bullet in my back or chest at any moment. When an annoyed soldier sprayed bullets into the group I was standing in, I pretended to be shot, clutching my stomach as I went limp. While the soldiers argued and the toed a few people over with their black boots, I rolled, then crawled, then ran away.
I hid the green tape with my hair. Barefoot, I crept in stairwells, searched for safe passages, and memorized the map. Once, I ran through the empty casino toward the maze of cabins, air smokey and thick, a riot of dings and whirls covering the shouts and footfalls behind me. Later, I had to climb up to the eleventh deck to avoid a suspicious guard. I burst from the stairwell and encountered four people I knew in middle and high school. Oblivious of what I was running from and what was happening just one deck above, not noticing my sweat or terror, they asked me if I knew a good place to tan. Not sure if they could be trusted, not sure if they were in trouble themselves, I tried to warn them that it was too hot on the pool deck. They didn’t understand and took off at a gleeful gallop, and the hallway was too full to call after them or to warn them more directly. I don’t know if I was sending them to their deaths or not. The State had decided there was nothing wrong with them, and they believed there was nothing wrong anywhere.
I don’t know what to make of it. Not yet. Maybe never. But it isn’t hard to see my fears manifesting. I see the lack of compassion, the lies in the current government. Just yesterday the White House Press Secretary spouted what amounted to Holocaust denials from behind the Presidential seal. And it’s not hard to see how selfish and privileged my fear of being one of the undesirables was. And I haven’t been diagnosed; I don’t know if I should be or if I will be at some point.
How has my internalization of ableism manifested here? Am I so ableist that I fear a diagnosis, and of being branded? Or do I feel solidarity with mentally ill people? Or am I just so afraid that all my Holocaust studies will be acted out before my eyes? What am I not doing that I should to support Jewish, Muslim, disabled, and other marginalized communities?
This is Holy Week, during which Christians remember Jesus’ final week before his arrest on false charges, torture, abandonment by friends, betrayal by the justice system, and then his slaughter. Only later do we celebrate his resurrection, rejoicing that goodness and love cannot be killed.
I follow an innocent Middle Eastern Jew who was murdered after a sham trial.
Dear Lord, show me the innocents I need to help protect. Make me stand up when I see violence and injustice around me. Give me courage and passion as I speak against the dangers others face. Heal, and please let me help. Most of all, forgive me. Forgive us.